Shakespeare's first theatre

1 min read

Shakespeare is associated mainly with the Globe and the South Bank. But most of his early plays were first performed at a playhouse in Shoreditch called simply ‘The Theatre’. Museum of London archaeologists think they have just found it.


It did not look much: about 3m of battered brick walling at the bottom of an excavation trench. More precisely, there were the remains of a brick wall, a chalk and stone pad, and a section of robbed-out foundation trench. They were the sort of scruffy remains of former buildings that you might see on any urban excavation.

The wall was not straight but turned a corner, as if it formed part of an octagonal building. The chalk and stone pad projected from the brick corner, and one could imagine it supporting some heavy structural timber. The group of archaeologists, gathered around the trench, experienced one of those awesome moments of dawning realisation that something very special indeed may have emerged from the soil.

Archaeologists are usually cautious. They are reluctant to speculate, reluctant to come to headline-grabbing conclusions too quickly, preferring to keep their professional integrity safely cocooned in a crust of hard, incontrovertible ‘scientific’ facts. But this time the circumstantial evidence was too compelling for any other interpretation to be at all likely. Ian Betts, the Museum of London Archaeology buildings specialist, was busy examining the actual bricks. They were of the right date. Everything fitted, this had to be it. They must, surely, be looking at the remains of the first theatre of the greatest playwright in history. More than 400 years before, Elizabethan Londoners had stood on this very spot to watch the first performance of Romeo and Juliet.


For the full article, see Current Archaeology 225

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